Texas: Inflammation is connected with many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the impact of nutrition on inflammation is attracting scientific attention. Recommendations to decrease consumption of red meat, for instance, are often based on outdated studies that indicate red meat has a negative effect on inflammation – although recent studies have contradicted this.
“The impact of diet, including red meat, on inflammation and disease risk needs more thorough examination, as unreliable evidence can lead to public health recommendations,” stated Dr. Alexis Wood, associate professor of pediatrics-nutrition at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. “Our team wanted to examine this closely by analyzing metabolite data in the blood, which provides a more direct connection between diet and health.”
Wood and her colleagues analyzed cross-sectional data from approximately 4,000 older individuals who participated in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), and their findings have recently been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Cross-sectional data is a valuable source of evidence regarding how nutrition affects health as it involves data collected from individuals living their normal lives without any attempt to modify their lifestyle. Hence, the findings of such studies can be more easily applied to real-life situations. In addition to self-reported food intake and various indicators, researchers examined several dietary intake metabolites in the blood. Plasma metabolites can help detect the effects of dietary intake during metabolism, digestion, and absorption. Researchers found that, when adjusting for body mass index (BMI), consumption of unprocessed and processed red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) did not have a direct association with any markers of inflammation, thus suggesting that it may be body weight, rather than red meat itself, that contributes to increased systemic inflammation. Of particular interest was the absence of a link between red meat consumption and C-reactive protein (CRP), a major inflammatory risk marker for chronic diseases.
“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that emphasizes the importance of measuring plasma markers, such as metabolites, to monitor associations between diet and disease risk, instead of relying solely on self-reported dietary intake,” said Wood. “Our analysis does not support previous observational research that links red meat intake and inflammation.”
Since observational studies cannot establish cause and effect, it is necessary to conduct randomized controlled trials (RCTs) where individuals are randomly assigned to consume or not consume a particular dietary factor in order to fully understand if red meat truly does not impact inflammation. Several RCTs have shown that lean unprocessed beef can be part of a heart-healthy diet.
“We are at a stage where further studies are needed before making recommendations to limit red meat consumption for reducing inflammation if we want our dietary recommendations to be based on the most current evidence,” Wood stated. “Red meat is widely consumed, accessible, and culturally significant. Therefore, recommendations to reduce consumption should be supported by robust scientific evidence, which is currently lacking.”
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